Staying in the digital underground

I often say that illusions are important to maintain. We all keep a certain amount of fantasy, healthy delusion, mystery and in some cases outright subterfuge in our lives to get by. Generally there is not only nothing wrong with it but in fact it’s both normal and necessary. Heck sometimes it gets us out of bed just so that we can be productive “I gotta go to work, can’t let the team down”. Especially when you know that you could go absent and it wouldn’t really effect productivity.

The main illusion that I maintain is that I am unbiased and unaffiliated. I am biased and I have some pseudo-affiliations but I do my best to keep all that to myself.  This isn’t easy when we live in the era of instant information. Keeping your “digital fingerprint” clean and undetected requires a bit of work.

Shortly after Google became, well Google, I tried out the new search engine by seeing what came up in searches for a variety of things including friends and family. This was before people widely did this and the results were for the time shocking to me. I mostly found almost nothing on the people that I knew but I found one result that changed my life. I got a link to a PDF of a petition that my mother signed stating her support for some local issue or whatnot. There it was, her name, address and signature online for all to see. Now the petition wasn’t anything damning at all but the ability to so quickly acquire a link between my mother and some politically motivated action on her behalf floored me.

Fast forward to today and many of us, because of Facebook alone, have come to realize that when you post that embarrassing photo of yourself it can come up to haunt you. People have lost their friends and even their jobs because they forgot that when you post something to the net it is essentially on display for the whole world and forever.

As an independent journalist I can’t afford to appear to be in any way unprofessional or be perceived to be actively working for any sociopolitical outcome. Thus I speak my mind in person to people who I know and trust but to all others, especially the internet, I keep my opinions to myself. I am not a member of any organization that is potentially politically active or takes any overt political stances. I don’t sign petitions and don’t write checks for donations to the cause. I keep my politics quiet and my professionalism above board.

Otherwise I could be denied access to any person or group who decides that upon doing a quick search to see who this guy is that wants to do a story on them isn’t going to be fair because they found this and that on the web that displays, to them, my bias. Ever tried to get the Secret Service to let you photograph a head of state or powerful member of the government? They do a lot more than a simple Google search on you. But all modern gate keepers know to see who you are and verify if they want you to have time with their important person. So if I was to, say, get an assignment to photograph the president of the big regional power company and their PR department found that I signed a petition just last month giving my support to a state measure to fund wind power, they might tell me that the president was “unavailable at this time to be photographed.”  Boom!, the door is shut. It happens.

So I keep it all professional. I realize that because of what I do everything is “on the record” and reflects upon me as a professional. That information can/will be used against me and I may never know it when it happens. If publications are denied access because of their printed bias then I can be denied because of my digital bias. As a good friend of mine says “that vigorously inhales!”

 

On a lighter note: here is a funky out take from a shoot that I did the other day. Always shoot what is interesting even if it doesn’t “fit the story”.

The kid

 

I love being self employed …

Some of you know that I firmly believe that regardless of how driven you are in your art and or business you need to have something that resembles a personal and satisfying life. I am blessed beyond belief that I have a: wife, lover, girlfriend, sandbox playmate, adventure buddy, best friend, confidante and good time gun shootin’ and beer drinking dude all wrapped into the same person. Makes things a whole lot easier! (Fewer lies to tell that’s fer sure!)

Well not only am I a visual explorer of the human experience but in the same manner am a “Bon Vivant”. I prefer not to use other terms such a “gourmand”, “foodie”, “sensualist” or worse yet “hedonist”. Rather I try to enjoy what life has to offer within the reason that a mature yet fun loving and curious person has.  I have long since stopped doing things that would potentially end in carrier ending or at least modifying outcomes. So no more free solo rock climbing, illegal car racing, bar fights, gun running … you know that sort of thing. But folks I gotta tell ya, there are so many ways to get out and enjoy what you have that are simple, wonderful and good for yer soul. A few weeks ago I did a shoot at Upslope Brewing, a local and pretty darned fine brewing establishment not that far from my home, and noted that they had a “Tuesday all day Happy Hour” deal going on.

She-zam! My wife, as mentioned above, had recently made the transition from Creative Director at a local marketing company to doing her own freelance writing deal.  She was rather bothered and confuzzed over the prospect of her spending the rest of her life working from her new office; which is what others would call the space we set up in the library at home. Granted working in your pajamas with the commute to the office being about eleven feet from the bedroom is pretty enticing but then I digress. I had explained to her that, given her skill set, she could go anywhere and if armed with her laptop she was essentially “at the office” and being productive. Now Upslope is one of her favorite local breweries, too many to mention in this area – sorry everyone who doesn’t live here! As a result Tuesdays when I don’t have assignments have become what I would refer to as “Remote Office Day”. With the mobile web and a our laptops we head to the Upslope tap room, grab a pint and one of their artesianal cheese paring plates and take care of biz. Yes it doesn’t suck. Today she was finishing up the editing job of a 300+ page novel and I got some marketing stuff done.

Tomorrow and the next few days will be pretty jammed with shoots and all the stuff that goes with it but today it’s pretty cool to sit here and not be under the gun. Watching the sun set on the Rocky Mountains outside with a darned tasty cold one in muh-hand and the woman of my dreams next to me is more than I would have hoped for when I decided long ago to form my professional life here.  It’s all about balance.

shot_1332887580157

Hello, my name is …

Gawd! I hate name tags. If I am in a situation where I expected to wear a name tag it seems to me that the organizers believe that I and my fellow attendees are not capable of  introducing myself or to have the person that I’m talking to do the same. The stupid ones that come in the package at your local office supply store are the worst and you know the ones that I’m speaking of. I try to be a real sport about it though. So in my usually jaunty manner tend to do things like walk up to someone that I haven’t met and because I’ve looked at their silly name tag I can say “So David Chan, assistant director of product development at CircleSquare.com, what do you think of the stuffed mushrooms they are serving?”

It certainly breaks the ice.

A wholly different situation is where I am expected to wear some kind of ID/credential while I am doing my work. I hate this even more than the “My name is …” tags because it means that I am being watched. I had to jump through some hoop to get in the door, so to speak, and I know that as I wander about doing my job it is not enough that I was scrutinized to get in but my ID is singling me out and everyone in an official capacity is paying more attention to me, who was checked out before hand, than the hundreds of other people who didn’t go through the credentialing process. And yet I am the one that they keep an eye on. Wha?

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It has begun

"Chance favors only the prepared mind." – Louis Pasteur

Sometimes you stumble upon the most wonderful things when you least expect them. That is if you keep an open mind and are willing to take what comes your way as essentially a long string of opportunities. How you either capitalize upon them or pass them up is up to you. I do however believe that every day you can have an encounter that is in some way truly significant. I met my wife through a set of circumstances that are downright convoluted but when I did meet her I had my self in internal and external line to meet her and the rest is romantic history.  I was prepared.

Late last year I through happenstance met a very nice fellow who had a great idea and was quote passionate about it. Now I meet people every so often who wants to get me excited about something that they are doing in such a way as to get me excited enough to be part of their project. Usually I am polite and nod in support and then quietly go my way. You know what I’m talking about. The guy/gal who thinks that we should pool our talents and do a feature length movie that explores the amazing world of toothpick sculpture. Yeah, right! That’s a great idea Edna …

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Pulling a rabbit

I was reading one of my industry blogs the other day and there was a bit about essentially “How can you screw THAT up?” It was in the context of if you have all the gear you could want, as large a crew of top level assistants/wardrobe/hair-makeup/post-production professionals as you want, a bunch of stunningly gorgeous models and a week at an amazing and exotic locale … how can you not make photos that people want to look at? You have it all and frankly pretty easy to boot. Upon reading this commentary I thought, in the squeaky little kids voice of comedian Gabriel Iglacias, “Yeah!”

It’s not jealousy talking here at all. It’s just a statement of fact. Most of us professional photographers don’t get the breaks whereby we get paid big money to hire an army of people to make everything happen “just so”. Most of us have constant conversations with new and old clients alike where we have to say, often, “yeah but if that’s your budget for this project we are going to have to shave something off because we just can’t pull it off for that kind of money.” We have to think on our feet, adapt, improvise and overcome the various obstacles that come with every job that we do. The ones that can do the seemingly impossible stay in business far longer than those who can’t.

If you read the blogs of any solid working pro or watch enough BTS videos you quickly get the sense that not every photographer gets to have things go his way. That’s only in the movies ya know. But some of us have it worse than others and some are used to it more than the rest.

There is a particular kind of let down which occurs when you get to the location of your shoot and you realize that everything you had hoped to find to work with isn’t there. There are a million such scenarios: have to do portraits of a big leader of industry only to find a cube farm or at best yet another of the worlds most boring conference rooms to shoot him in. Or maybe it’s a supposedly big event that should provide lots of energy for exciting images but it turns out to be mostly old dudes sitting around on lawn chairs. Maybe it’s the performer that you admire and are supposed to get interesting and intense images of but the dude is too grumpy/tired/depressed/stoned to do more than slump into a chair. You know, that sort of thing. Hey it happens!

Well I had two of them go down last week but like the ninja that I tell myself that I am, I found a way to elevate the painfully boring to the level of “Hey! That’s not too darned bad!”. I take it in stride because that’s what I’m supposed to do. Failure is not an option. Ever. The best part is that after delivering the goods I got a note from each client to the extent of “Hey I know that conditions of the shoot didn’t turn out to be nearly as cool as we had hoped but you really shot the hell out of it and the images are great, thanks!” Now THAT is cool. Makes me fee all professional inside.

Here is a shot from a similar situation: I was to make photos of the head of a software company for a profile piece. Problem was, they had just moved into a new building that still had the old occupants logos everywhere,  everything was still in boxes, the head guy was only going to be in town for one day and had a ton of phone meetings lined up. I was given ten minutes between calls to make my shots. Luckily my subject turned out to be a super nice dude and was as accommodating as his schedule would allow. I shot the jebus out of it doing three set ups in that time and even with the cluttered mess about me made him look cool, intelligent, professional and personable.

My favorite was the last thing that I shot when he went back to his desk to answer the phone again. I saw the colors and reflections of the buildings outside and simply asked him to look up at me. Four frames later, the phone rang and that was the end of the shoot.

Gorilla

I’d love to be able to just connect the dots: this person here, light it this way, have all my trusty people do their magic and all that but I’m not sure that it would suit me. I’m not a huge fan of walking in an saying to muh-self “Argh! NOW what do I do?” but it makes me feel great when I pull off a magic trick and my clients know it.

 

Insane in the membrane

Shortly after making the last post, about the crushingly not-much-happening protest I had a reflection upon the state of mind of someone who gets excited to make photos of things such as protests. Ya see, news guys and gals aren’t right in the head. We don’t spend our time trying to find the perfect face and find a way to light it angelically to produce an etherial and other worldly image that sells stuff. Nope. We aren’t interested in creating any sort of fantasy. Just the opposite. We are obsessed with showing things that are real and happening underfoot in many cases especially because it’s not pleasant. News-ies want to make you stop and pay attention to things that we think are important.

Paul, one of my news shooter friends, and I decided that there is something completely wrong with us. We aren’t wired normally. He noted some time ago while musing on the patio of a local coffeehouse that if out of the blue someone came running down the street screaming in a panicked voice “Look out! He’s got a gun!” everyone would duck and run away from the source of the danger while he and I would grab our cameras and run towards the maniac in order to get a good image of the chaos. Who with a fully working brain does that?

Back when I was getting started I contacted my local Associated Press office to try and become a stringer for them. The head photog was out on vacation and so I had to wait a few weeks to see him. However the guy I was talking to told me to keep up the good work so to speak. “Oh,” he said, “in the mean time if you get anything good: barricaded gunman, jumper with flames, send that in.” Jumper WITH flames became stuck in my head for years to come. Get a shot of a dude in mid air while jumping from a building? Meh. Shot of a dude in mid air while jumping from a building that is engulfed in fire? Score!

So as a result even when I’m headed to an assignment with the car loaded with lighting gear for a complicated portrait of some head of industry I still have my gas mask stowed away next to the spare tire. You never know when you will need it to get “the shot”.

Ugh, there is something wrong with us!

On a lighter note, here is a shot from the Ferret Cam.

Nap

People in Denver are too nice, or: don’t you hate when …

Don't you hate it when you go to a riot and a friendly rally breaks out? What a bummer! I was alerted to the fact that there was going to be an Occupy The Courts protest event here in Denver on Friday and thought "Well, yeah!". I don't cover hard news much any more and that's cool with me. I've been a feature story/essay kinda guy since I realized that not only is there no real carrier in it the chance of getting hurt, arrested by mistake or maybe even accidentally shot, just really wasn't my idea of a good time. I spent some time in my formative years working with the Detroit police covering their night operations and while it was both exciting and was a great learning experience I quickly saw how it just a matter of time until something unpleasant would happen to me.

Since then I've covered protests and a few riots and while I am equipped with a proper military gas mask and all the padding and gear necessary to protect me from possible harm in those situations they tend to not happen in my neck-o the woods for one big reason: people here are nice. Gah! Nice people don't often make dramatic photos very easy to make. Here is an exercise for ya: imagine take a general news picture. Ok? Not that interesting but if done well isn't that bad to look at. Now add to the scene four police officers wrestling a dude to the ground while he's kicking and screaming. Hmm, that's a more interesting image now isn't it? If said officers decide to reenact the famous "Rodney King" tape, now we are talking not only an image that you can't help look at, albeit maybe in horror, but some kind of award is likely to come of your image making efforts. That is the kind of thing that is worth getting out of bed early for. Right?

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Innit funny?

Something happened the other day and it took me until about now to understand what really went on. Here's the situation. I was given an assignment to go someplace and make photos for an article. Nothing new here. I pack my bags to get physically ready for what I am to encounter and to render it as the client is anticipating. Load up the car and drive to the location but something is bugging me the whole time. I get those kind of feelings and I learned a long time ago to listen to them.

It's a kind of limbic system awareness that is not always correct but when it is you are thankful. Much like when you are out with a friend late at night and the friend says "Oh, let's cut through here, it's a short cut" and as you look down that dark alley/lonely street/empty park the hairs on your neck stand up and the pit of your stomach starts to tighten. You know that feeling. It's your lizard brain letting you know stuff that our much ballyhooed cerebellum tends to ignore. The feeling isn't good so you convince your buddy to take the long way and it just seems like you saved yourself a lot of getting lost, a flat tire or worse a mugging. Women tend to listen to the quiet little voices in our heads more than men do. While dudes have the same alert network they tend to boldly go on regardless of those nagging "something isn't right here …" notices.

(Meanwhile back at the ranch …) Before I left for the assignment I called the assignment desk to make sure that my info was correct. Yes it's all there just as they sent it to me. Uh, ok. And again as I was driving to the shoot I kept feeling that something was off. None the less I proceeded to get my head screwed on for what I needed to do. Now I don't try to previsualize a shoot as things rarely turn out as we imagine before we arrive. Worse it's not what the client expects having never been "there" and can't see what happens when you are trying to make something out of nothing.

Instead what I do is kind of like a meditation whereby I clear my mind so that I am open to whatever opportunity presents itself to me when I am on location. Sometimes what seems to be a totally worthless situation is actually pretty cool, it's just not what you expected and as a result you are so focused on what is not there you miss what is. Expecting a location with rich saturated colors and strong light but get a socked in overcast day and muted pastels? Make the tone of the image subtle and demure. Why not? Could be cool. Unless your mind is open to all possibilities you will only find what you are looking for rather than what is there. Insert your Zen here.

When I arrive at the location I immediately find out that the information given to me was wrong. The subject that I was supposed to photograph wasn't scheduled for that day at all and there is no way to work around it and therefore nothing to shoot for the client. Made a call back to the desk to explain and headed back home feeling bad. Not for the client, they dropped the ball somewhere and that's that. Not that I was put out, I still got paid for the shoot even if my cameras didn't leave the bag. Instead I was super let down. Granted the shoot wasn't supposed to be anything amazing where the clip would go into my folio or better yet be that "award winner". Ha! No it was just a chance to go and make photographs. Yes I make photos all the time but the bummer of it was that I had gotten into the zone and through the mess up it yanked me back to reality where things go wrong that I can't overcome through either my outright creativity or my ability to work the bad human based situation into a good one.

This scenario has happened many times in my carrier but it took until the other day to finally figure out why when it happens I feel so bad afterwards. Well not bad-bad but more like a real disappointment. I love the fact that I can earn a living doing what I do but that's because I love what I do so much that it is a critical part of who I am. The process of making photos, something I sometimes call "the dance", is almost an out of mind experience and needs to be. Getting psyched up to dance only to have the music stop as you enter the dance hall, man that's just no fun.

So on an up note, I was out the other night and grabbed this very colorful and luminous scene but decided that it was actually moodier than my eyes told me. Ah, artistic lisence!

Stairs

7 hours to civilization

I'm having dinner at a little steakhouse near Omaha. It's the final leg of a long day of driving, 600+ miles, to a small Iowa town in order to do a story about the Iowa Caucus. I hate to even say the term but “flyover states” like Nebraska and Iowa get a bad rap. They have their own kind of beautiful and are filled with honest, hard working people with no pretense. But they are sparsely populated and essentially rural where except for a few places that my buddy who works on Wall Street would barely call cities. These states are filled with tiny and isolated towns that are little more than specks on the map. So as I left Denver this morning I really didn't come to anything that amounted to more than an oversized truckstop until I got here whereby I decided that I could get a brew and hot slab of bovine tastiness of actual quality. Luckily in this world of homogeneity there are always the usual suspects of fast food joints but unless I really have to I bypass those. Neither tasty nor cheap but if that is all you have …

My bag of snacks from home has kept my hunger at bay, some of my mothers left over holiday cookies are always a welcome addition, but this stop as they say hits the spot. The steak is quite good and Kacey my spunky waitress properly tempted me with their freshly ground horseradish. Yeah!

Ya see, I love traveling for pleasure and tolerate traveling for business. Being a “foodie”, craft brewing aficionado and over-all city boy, I tend to like the finer things that are hard to come by in small towns in say, South Dakota. Coming home is not just because my wife and familiar bed is waiting for me but I can often finally get, sorry for the tone of snobbery, a proper meal and pint.

When the wife and I travel it's often to locations that we pick specifically for their food/drink options. We might swing by a monument or museum between eating stops so as to work up a good appetite for the next round of gustatory delights but that's about it. A bit ago the wife and I decided that for our ten year anniversary we are likely going to go to Vienna to celebrate. When we mention this people say things like.”Oh Vienna is lovely, very romantic and filled with history and culture!” But we reply “Yeah, a history of great cheese, sausage, schnitzel and beer. Oh and the architecture isn't bad either.”

So given that bit of background you can understand how my friends upon hearing that I was headed the hinterlands of rural Iowa, yes I know that's a bit redundant, gave me a sad look because they know that I would be in the land of meatloaf and boiled potatoes. Well certainly not MY meatloaf that is.

But let me say this: all of the people that I've spoken to in Iowa to set up appointments, access and subjects have been flat out the nicest people I may have ever spoken to. Friendly, open, accommodating and humble. I'm looking forward to meeting them and documenting their lives. Should be a hoot. However I know that I will be in the flat lands where there is no looming mountain range to give you a sense of direction. I hate that.

Much like when you spend time in a foreign country, and to many Iowa qualifies as such, it will be a wonderful experience but it will also be great to be home and back into my usual groove. After the story runs I'll do a post about that.

Pixel wars

I swear. Just as ice cream is cold, when it’s not all melty, that just about every time I’m shooting out in public somebody asks me “How many megapixels has that got?” I tend to reply “More than I need” and with that I leave it to his imagination. It’s usually a guy who asks and we all know that guys love numbers that define things. Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races – we used to say. Pixels is the modern photographic equivalent to that adage. Pixels gives those who often don’t know better the impression that they are getting more for their money. But “we” know otherwise.

Or do we? Canon, not to pick on them, have just announced their new flagship camera the EOS 1DX. Unlike their prior line up there is no “s” model that will be a higher resolution version that is best described as a studio/big print camera. Up till now the non-“s” was designed with sports, news and general professional use in mind where higher ISO and frame rate performance was more important than pure “does that have a Hemi?” pixel horsepower. But no more. Well I won’t bother you with that rant as I’m sure that there are hundred of writers out there spouting a much more empassioned appeal to one direction or the other. Nope not here. What I have to say is:

“How many megapixels” matters less now than ever before. Huh? Let’s fire up the Wayback machine again and I’ll show you. Boy I love this device; picked it up on E-Bay for a pittance! Click! Whirrrr-ZoooM!

My first digital camera was a Nikon D1x and it’s file output of 5.74 megapixels was pretty darned high resolution for the time. Ok, ok, stop giggling, it’s true! The ground breaking D1 was barely 3 meg and the improved D1h, the “news/sports” version was faster than the original but the D1x was the “magazine/studio” camera. Well I had one, then two then briefly three but again I digress. Ok so there I was cranking out nearly 6 meg files and I had my newspaper editor freaking out telling me to crop these massive files or I was sure to clog their wire service and archiving systems. Really! But they had a point. A clean 3 meg file was almost overkill on newsprint being printed at 75dpi so they could print BIG and it would hold up. In their mind my D1x was insane! Who needs that kind of camera?

Then I ditched the D1x for the smaller, faster, better D200 when it came out. 10 meg capture baby! Again the newspapers and even some magazines told me to give them smaller files because again that kind of resolution was far more than they needed. Heck National Geographic with their great reproduction is only 135dpi! They were running double trucks from D1x files what the heck did they need almost twice the file for? Are you crazy? Yep.

Thus I was waiting for Ralph Nader to walk on stage when he was on the campaign trail in 2004 and was equipped with dual D200 rigs and got to talking to Steve Groer from the Rocky Mountain News. He noticed my cameras and said something to the effect of “Nice, but what do you need 10 meg for? A nice clean 4 meg is plenty for our work. Why do they keep giving us pixels that we throw away?” He was using two Nikon D2h which were 4 meg capture and yes that was for his purpose just dandy. He was a news paper dude but I submitted to magazines and did commercial work on my D200 so the higher resolution made sense.

But now? What is the paradigm? Not print. And except for large “point of purchase” displays in stores just about everything that you are reading or looking at is either magazine sized or more and more likely on some kind of screen. Who needs super high resolution cameras for a major advertising campaign when those images are only shown on TV and the web? Wha? The final output will be 450 pixel sidebar ads? Do we honestly need the new 80 meg capture back from Phase One to do that? Nah! I can dust off my old D1x and still crop the heck out of it and it will look just great!

Pixels and horsepower sells product to a degree. But the money that is made from photography that is not of the art or personal memory making (read as essentially wedding photography) all comes from advertising. Magazines and news papers survive not by the quality of their reporting but by their ability to sell advertising to the people who want to read the articles. Advertising is getting smaller and smaller not just in terms of budget but also in terms of reproduction size and in terms of how long they can have a campaign be out there. As a result of their target markets being found more and more on the web and the 700+ tv channels out there the demands upon us photographers to have cameras that produce wall sized prints has turned upside down. Maybe Canon figured this out and they are trying to stop the megapixel madness. Maybe Canon turned their backs on a small but very real market for their products. I dunno.

What I do know is that I don’t print my own photos and haven’t for a very long time. By that I mean I don’t print photos to look at them. I print the occasional image for my folio or for promo use. The rest stay on the hard drives. Those prints that I have made are not gi-normous. How many people do you know that actually make physical prints of their photos anymore? There are more photos being made now than ever before by a huge margin and most of them are going on to Facebook. No joke. Facebook is the largest depository of photographs in the world right now. How big are they displayed? 600 pixels wide? Oh you certainly need 20 meg capture for that masterpiece! That’s why soooo many people just take the photo with their cellphone rather than a “proper” camera. No need for more.

When you consider that many commercial photographers ditched their medium format film cameras, like Hasselblads, when the Canon 1Ds came out with it's "huge" 11 meg capture because it provided equal or better image quality then what I run around with, my Nikon D700, is essentially a tiny Hasselblad that shoots @ 8fps and gives totally pro quality up to ISO4000. That's pretty amazing. Why do you or I need much more than that?

Now for the ironic wrap up: I’m working on making huge prints. I’ve been fiddling with a project where big prints are the result. I’m still shooting with my beloved Nikon D700 but using the multi frame stitch panorama approach to achieve the needed buckets of pixels necessary. It’s easy, it works and I don’t have to spend a bunch of cash on a super high resolution camera that is even more overkill than what I currently have.

Given that here is a simple four frame stitch that I did at night with my D700 using my AF-S 28-70 f/2.8 with a 30 second exposure at ISO1600. It will make a seamless and grainless 16×20 inch print. It's about the same as a 24 meg capture but because my camera makes ISO1600 look much better than the "big" capture cameras in essence you couldn't get this shot with a D3x or 1Ds III and the medium format cameras are even more useless in this application. For things like this loads of pixels is awfully nice to have but for everything else, why are we all worked up? Stop worrying about pixels and spend more time making the pixels that you have fufill your needs.

Pano

A happy pulp

So I’m continuing to work on my project “After Action Review”: a portrait series of extreme and endurance athletes after they have spent a goodly amount of time and effort wearing themselves out in competition. I’m very excited and happy with this as I’ve put the restriction on the project that all the athletes that I photograph be amateurs: they are doing it for the love and not the money. Which makes you wonder even more strongly “the why the heck do they do that to their selves?”

So I called up a local promoter of Mixed Martial Arts events and asked if I could make photos. He swung the doors wide and gave me full access. What a guy! It’s amazing what a camera and a press pass can do for you. You get to go through the doors that say “No admittance” and “Authorized Personnel Only”. Lawd but I love my job!

I’ve shot boxing before but never MMA although I’m a big fan. I decided to shoot some action for me and my agency but the real reason that I was there was to shoot the fighters. I have deep and intense respect for the men and women who devote their lives to becoming competitive fighters – especially MMA as it’s so complex and technical.

So I head to the part of the building that they are using for locker room/pre fight prep and in the corner set up my white seamless and lights. I’d prefer to use soft natural light but in this situation I had to use strobes. One nice benefit is that none of the fighters had met me before so the studio setup made me nicely conspicuous and that lead to some curious fighters wanting to know what I was up to. The gear helped break the ice because I didn’t want to be too up front initially.

If you aren’t familiar with what goes on behind the curtain at a fight it’s like this: each fighter and their trainer spend just about every moment getting physically and mentally ready. Except for the WHAP! of gloves hitting a practice pad or the THUNK! of a fighter working on their throws and pins on the wrestling mat it’s very quiet. The occasional low voice is heard as a trainer tapes up his fighters hands or the trainer massages his fighters arms/shoulders. There is a reverence there. The fighters don’t speak much as they are focusing their minds for the critical intensity necessary to enter the cage ready for anything that their opponent will throw their way. The Japanese word Dojo means “the place of the way” and were initially parts of temples. That carried over to the modern martial arts studio/Dojo and that temple like feeling is certainly there in the locker room and why I wasn’t my usual chatty self.

But it only took a few fighters to ask what I was up to and I had some volunteers for my project. Now unlike some of the events that I will be covering in After Action, the MMA fight could last a painful 3 rounds with each fighter totally exhausted and bloody, or it could end in 30 nearly sweatless seconds. No way to tell. A few of the fighters came back from the cage looking like they had done little more than jog to their car and back. That didn’t make for interesting photos. Then came Nick who went a very tough 3 rounds in the 185 pound match finally winning by knocking his opponent out via choke hold. This frame is the keeper of the evening!

Nick

Oh and I asked the winner of the 125 pound womens title match, tough as nails and rather cute too!, what she got out of all the pain and personal sacrifice that it takes to be a fighter and she said “the satisfaction of accomplishment”. True dat!

Where have you been you old goat?

First off, I have been remiss in keeping up with this here blog thing so I humbly beg your forgiveness. There has been lots going on in JC world and while some is exciting a lot is boring but the kind of boring that nicely pays the bills. The problem with being a working photographer is that you are in fact working. As in the kind that wears out shoes.

 

Second there are some big things brewing in JC land; some of which I’m not yet willing to divulge because as silly as it seems I don’t want to jinx it. But I will say that I am writing a grant proposal that could very well change the course of my career and the knowledge that I’m the only one applying for said grant makes me pretty giddy. I should have the ability to talk about that project in a few weeks and when it comes through I may not need to blog about it because I will be shrieking like a little girl and everyone will know far and wide. (Wow that was overly dramatic huh?)

 

So I’m currently having a cuppa-joe before heading out on a quick assignment for a regular client of mine and then once that is transmitted I’m packing my bags to head to Utah for a few days.

 

Utah? Yep.  I like Utah. It’s like another world and no that’s not a poke at the Mormons, they are nice people, I’m talking about the freakishly beautiful landscape. I fell in love with Utah when I was in high school because as I’ve said I kinda wanted to be a landscape photographer. Thus my father and I would roam about the 4 Corners district a lot on summer vacations. I would pretend that my Minolta 35mm SLR was the worlds smallest view camera. Seriously! If you take the time to squeek every bit of sharpness possible out of small format cameras it’s impressive what you can get out of them. That’s when I developed, no pun there, my love of using tripods and remote releases. That’s the only way to get usable big-ish prints out of the little bits of film which resides in 35mm cameras.

 

Side note, I’ve been using my tripod again for portraits because I can set up my composition to be exactly what I want and use the remote to trigger everything. Thus I can have both hands and eyes to engage my subject to elicit the mood or expression that I want from them. It doesn’t work for every assignment but I never leave home without a tripod. Ever.

 

Where was I? Oh yes Utah! (Thanks!) So I’m going to the Moab area to shoot a gathering of Jeep enthusiasts for a few days. Why? Because I can. I don’t often do “personal work” that requires travel simply because 75% of my work gives me less than 48 hours notice. Thus it’s the total suck to be 700 miles away from your home base only to find that you missed out on a nice assignment because you can’t get a quick and cheap enough flight back to make the assignment worth while. But in this case it’s a holiday weekend, not much is going down that I have to worry about, and I can drive home in about 6 hours. Huh, what’s that in the back? Yes you in the fedora … oh good question, why the heck am I going? Well to have an excuse to hve some fun and maybe even make some photos.

 

Ya see, a buddy of mine who lives near D.C. was the one who told me about the gathering and being the nosey photographer that I am I invited muh-self to come along. I mean come on! Dudes and dudettes in the glory of southern Utah camping in the spring with Jeeps!

 

Will post pix upon my return.

A video confession

I’ve been watching a lot of tutorials on video color grading lately. For those of you not working with video in a professional context that means that I’ve been learning how to adjust and tone the video that I shoot much like you work with still images. But not at all.

 

Ya see when I become Emperor things will be made consistent. We won’t have 32 different terms for the same thing so that when you learn a new discipline that really isn’t that far away from your main body of knowledge you don’t have to pick up a thousand new words for things that you basically already know how to do. Thus I’ve been learning how to “color grade” video using basically the same kind of tools that I’d use to process a still photo. And friends I gotta tell ya I just can’t believe how picky these guys get about the subtleties of the color in their video, I mean wow.

 

So why the heck am I torturing myself with this rot? Well I’ve been editing a large-ish video project that I’ve been shooting for a local client of mine and it’s made me want to have a better and larger set of processing tools. I have an excellent video editing suite but in the past nearly all my video work has been news/editorial and just like when being a still image news photog you aren’t supposed to play with the image in post. But for commercial work it needs to be cleaner, more interesting and maybe even slick. Depending.

 

This is a lot like how I had to learn how to actually use Photoshop for more than cropping. Now when I’m shooting portraits and the client wants, for instance, some skin smoothing I can do that easily. But back “then” I had no idea how it was done.

 

Now I’m not interested in doing feature films at all as that is way too much like work for me but I do really enjoy shooting and editing video. Much like the audio based multimedia that I’ve been working with for years video is just another way of telling stories. Unfortunately in the past when I’d have my video camera rig on me I would also have two still cameras as well making for a very clumbsy me. It’s very hard to shoot stills and video of the same time and not make a mess of it. But I had clients who wanted both and since they were paying for it and knew that it means that you have at best adequate stills and passable video, I did the best with what I had to work with.

Oh and for those of you who haven’t seen the mess that video editing looks like here is a screen shot of all the cuts, bits and tweeks I had to do just to get that two minute and a smidge piece to look that way. Ugh!

I got my first video only assignment last year and it was a very freeing experience. I was to shoot the annual fireworks held at the University of Colorado’s football stadium, (boring!) but we got a torrential downpour (Yah, bad weather!) so I spent two hours with my lens not pointing up at a bunch of meaningless flashing lights. The weather became the story so I shot it that way. Considering that I put it together on daily deadline and did it all muh-self I’m pretty happy with it all things considered. It’s raw and such but for my first “real” news video I can live with it. (It’s much better than the stuff I did when I also had to shoot stills!)


 

So anyway I’m doing more commercial video now and it’s freaking great. I’m be able to get good sound, put the subject in good lighting, and do two dozen takes with varying angles to then edit it together and with some post production have it, well, look good. She-ZAM!

And it’s funny because I was at a very cool seminar a few weeks ago all about better reaching advertising clients and one of the topics was “do you need to shoot video as well” and the consensus was that if you can that’s cool but to do it right takes more than just handing you, the qualified still photographer, a camera that shoots video. There is the audio, the lighting, the direction of the subject and all the editing/grading that makes it work. But I was chuckling to myself because I am not nor will I ever be a junior Spielberg but I do think that I can fake it all well enough to have people write me a check for the work that I do.

Oh and I’m just about 3 chapters away from finishing “On Directing Film” by David Mamet and I think that his insights may have effected my still photography brain even more than my moving pictures brain. How did that happen?

The King is dead and I’m ok with that

Well you all know that Kodachrome is dead. Ya-da, ya-da. The retrospectives and homages that spilled out for weeks about how Kodachrome was and forever will be The King, Elvis not withstanding, just kinda bugged me. And that all, as I’m sure you are expecting, got me to thinking.

 

1)      I learned to shoot color on Kodachrome K64. I spent my early years running around with either that or K25 in my cameras learning how to get my technicals correct. My images were boring but I got to understand color and exposure under the worst conditions.

2)      To most of the world until about 1984 Kodachrome was what color photography looked like and as a result it imprinted itself onto the world’s collective consciousness. That changed when Fuji released Velvia and the modern “hot wet color” look was born. To me that meant that Kodachrome at that point became a look of the past where Fuji was the present. Upon seeing what Velvia looked like, I dropped Kodachrome like a two-timing girlfriend.

3)      When digital became a practical reality I didn’t like the linear way that the capture looked. You know what I mean: reds are red and blues are just blue. There was no character to the image and that bothered a lot of pro shooters who had spent years learning and loving what certain film stocks, like Kodachrome, gave us. So I spent a while making a look in Photoshop that didn’t look manipulated but had some of the character of my then go to film stock: Fuji Provia 100. I considered getting a Kodachrome like look but gosh darned it, it just had a muddiness that didn’t feel right.

4)       This made me think about my emotional sense of color and what that meant to me. In relation to our modern sense of color that both Fuji Velvia and digital capture/processing has produced, Kodachrome has a soft, faded and nostalgic look way after many people forgot how Kodachrome looked. It is slightly dream like and that made it special again: that whole 1970’s nostalgia thing that has been around lately. But that doesn’t work for me. I’m not nostalgic; I’m romantic and romance is being in the moment not in the remembering. To me the glory of “now” is how clear and present it is. That said I also have a thing for B&W but then that is another post.

5)      For the last decade, wow that makes me feel old, millions of photographers have only shot digitally. They never used a film camera and have no idea how being able to master that fickle medium makes you a better photographer. Kodachrome was the training tool for just about us all until about 1999 when that paradigm shift happened. Now that film processing is hard to come by it makes me wonder what the next decade will do for our craft. Will we just move on or will that lack of “if you botched it you botched it” hurt us? I dunno.

 

Then again when film quickly replaced wet plate photography all the old dudes pulled their hair and cried that the craft had gone to hell with this fancy new shortcut. I don’t think that digital capture is a short cut and I don’t think that the craft has necessarily been hurt. It’s certainly changed. The end of the Kodachrome era of color photography is just that: the end of an era. As one comes to a close another begins. I am quite interested to see what happens next.

Throw half your brain out the window

I tend to be focused on making images that are both interesting and technically correct in that order. It took me a while to not make photos in the other order. One of the pitfalls of coming from the landscape photography background is that there is often an inordinate amount of effort in that genre to produce as technically correct images as possible. As a result a lot of what you see is what I would call superbly crafted but voiceless work. On the other hand you have the “art” photographers who tend to shy far away from things technical and as a result delve into visual realms that are horrifying to the craft minded photographer. The art guys want to be personally expressive at any cost and as a result they often make what I would call images where they are trying too hard to be unique and their sloppy work detracts from what they are trying to convey.

It’s all about balance, right? So I try to bring “feel” to the photos that I create without making either the techniques that I use, or the lack there of, apparent. I think that whatever you use to get the job done is less important than the work itself. With some clients and assignments I can be loose and with some more crafted. It all depends on the circumstance. And I’m not one for nostalgia – I don’t go out of my way to intentionally make my images look low tech, warm/fuzzy or in any way retro. It’s just no my deal.

However, you know this was coming didn’t ‘cha?, when I came across this shot the other day I initially flinched because I tend to abhor lens flair. But darn it, it looked right! Like a good photog I took the shot and didn’t worry about if it fit with my typical shooting approach. It’s fairly low in contrast, has a bit of a warmish tone to it and I left it that way because it felt right. The kid is listening intently to a the championship finals of a Texas style fiddle competition. I guess that makes it doubly old time-y.

  Fiddle watcher
My way of measuring an image, or a song or any piece of art, is "do you understand what the artist is trying to tell you?". If what you see is something interesting, evocative or arresting, then the work succeeds. If what you see is the artists hands all over the work and not the artists soul or storytelling ability then the work fails. A lot of my work fails when I try too hard because typically my brain is trying to make things fall in place because I am exercising my will upon the image. When I turn my brain off and let what I see become clarified by what I know how to do then the image tends to work and in a free flowing and natural manner.

To whom does the lens point?

 “The camera always points both ways. In expressing your subject, you also express yourself.” Freeman Patterson

I’ve always loved this quote. I’m pretty sure that Freeman didn’t invent it but he’s been such a great philosophic educator of photography and has meant a lot to me over the years that I’ll give him full credit for it anyhoo. But I will expand the quote thus: “What an artist shows in their art is nothing less than their self”

I was sent to do a little story on a local city that does a big coordinated gallery walk every holiday season. Kinda boring story with kinda boring visuals – people standing around. Joy! (Read as a challenge!)

Well I was looking about at the first gallery and was struck by the stark differences between the work of the featured artists all of whom were painters. The four of them had very different styles and subject matter. One was obviously deeply religious, one was fascinated by the mystical power of animals, one was focused on Aspen trees and the other did very impressionistic still life.

My impression of each of them was pretty clear from looking at their work. The tree gal deals with personal isolation and sees the world as being rather clearly defined as her beautifully painted trees are devoid of not only animals but also importantly people and the trees themselves are filled with tiny details importantly the myriad of growth scars that appear as black slashes against their stark white bark. The impressionist is all about very warm soft light and he uses a lot of paint layering for texture and the impression of detail where his bold brush strokes show only shape.

I got to chatting with the tree lady and the dude with the still lives and found them to be very nice people. I also nailed their personalities and in describing their work/personal outlook that I got from looking at their work they were both astounded at my accuracy. Yep, he’s a classic romantic and she had a hard childhood.

Now while all this looking and chatting was going on I was figuring out how the heck to show something interesting from a packed room full of people in coats having snacks and occasionally noticing the art that is all around them. Any news-y who has covered these kind of things knows how dreadful this kind of assignment can be. There are a lot of cliché images that can be made but I hate that kind of thing so I didn’t tread in that territory. But I was looking at everything through my eyes and all which that means.

Which … got me thinking about my self and style with a parallel: my music. I’ve been a musician almost as long as I’ve been making photographs; they are my two artistic passions. I realized that night that both share a similar style, one visual and one auditory but very much the product of me and how I see the world.

I see things in a dark and mysterious manner but one that isn’t contrived to be heavy handed. I see our experience as a place of multiple dimensions where not everything is as we seem yet is totally “real”. I love texture, complex rhythm and not really knowing what is going to happen next. Things that are slightly disjointed isn’t jarring but rather happily surprising. Isn’t life like that?

Also I’m not the product of any school or teacher. I figured out things by myself with the intent of being inspired by but not molded by any known “master of the art”. In fact I made a lot of effort to know what the standard material is and to not learn it. Learning technique is one thing and I spent a lot of time developing and continue to practice/learn but I didn’t want to be able to play/shoot like everyone else. Why?

As a result if you ask me to bring my guitar over for a jam I will likely decline because I intentionally don’t know a bunch of well known tunes. I mostly only know my own compositions. I never photographed figure studies or classical still life – boring! I find tight studio portraits to be almost pointless unless there is an invoice involved. It’s not that I can’t do those things if I wanted to it’s that they don’t have my voice involved. As a result I don’t and won’t play blues. I like blues alright but it’s not my way of speaking. Just as I don’t like putting people in a studio only to use huge and soft light on them – my way is to be more dramatic and soft light is clean to the point of sterile. To me the world isn’t that way because seamless light without character is, well, without character. I don’t like “nice”.

So life is like jazz is that we all have a basic chart of what we might expect in the song we are playing but we are expected to improvise our parts while everyone around us improvises too. However being a metal guy I think that life is not all sweetness and light. It’s often dark, powerful, nebulous and menacing. To me there is a beauty in the maelstrom if you care to look at it.

Oh yeah, I was a Philosophy minor in college. Can ya tell?

Art

Gimme some sugar!

It’s well known that when you eat at a quality restaurant that part of what makes the food so good, besides their use of top ingredients and excellent technique, is that they put more salt, sugar and fat into the dishes than you would as a home cook. In fact the amount of sugar, salt and fat – often butter, would freak many people out to the point of them questioning if they should eat at their favorite place ever again. But again that’s what makes it so yummy – all the things that our taste buds crave is there in spades on the plate. We aren’t supposed to think about what we are eating when we are enjoying it so much. Otherwise we would never really eat dessert again huh?

 

I started to realize the other day that post processing images is just like that. As a professional photographer you are expected to have excellent technique and be using if you will top ingredients in your images. Natch! But these days it has become normal to use so much “seasoning” in post production that people are now used to it and in many ways expecting that what you are showing them has already been sweetened by P-Shop.

 

I have had a number of interesting looks and responses when I show a potential client examples of my work and explain that none of my images are composites and have the barest amount of processing; just enough to set color and levels usually. Their “Oh really?!?” is because my work looks good and so many professionals transform their images in post rather than compose and create them in camera. You know, like in the old days? It almost wierds people out for me to tell them that I could shoot the job on film and it would look great “out of the can” as we say.

 

Did I mention that I don’t retouch my portraits? When you look at any publication that is non news just about every image of a person, let alone product, has been worked over in P-Shop in many cases to the point of looking like a different person. Many celebrities have retouch artists who they personally prefer to make them look “right” before the publication can use the selected images. Gad!

 

Ok, ok, I’m still that news guy at heart … yeah. But to me the deal is that people are so used to opening up a publication or seeing adverts where women are without pores or over 30 and no hint of wrinkles that they question their own reality. We produce a world where colors and contrast are surreal. One where objects that don’t exist together are stitched seamlessly within impossible circumstances.  Our ability to crank up the sensation of it all may be deadening their ability to distinguish between visual truth and fiction.

 

More sugar! Saltier! Spicer! Then they will be excited to buy the new, and rather useless, widget that we are selling. Maybe? No matter that they should have just made the widget actually work well and thus people will want it. That seems so, uh, old fashioned.

 

Given that – isn’t reality, our current one, even stranger than fiction? Can we tell when there is something clean and simple and real before us? Or is everything made glossy because we are used to making is so?

 

Thus let us contemplate the simple things before us. I propose that in our photography we should not necessarily be the illustrators of a hyper reality but rather illuminators of the glory of our truly three dimensional world. Can I get a “Hurrumph!”???

 

This to me is simple beauty: fresh picked peas from an organic garden that was started up by a fellow who wanted to grow his own food in the city. His hands say a lot about him, eh?

  Beans 3

A book and it’s cover

I know that this comes just after I posted a glowing admiration of great editors but bear with me. I often look a publications and wonder who is running the place. When the publishing industry is supposedly trying so hard to be relevant and not only hold on to their businesses but maybe even grow a bit why do so few seem to be capable of independent or creative thought? Is everyone so scared that they err on the side of “tried and true” and through that inaction get passed by? I had a discussion with an editor who I have a great relationship with about the power and importance of the cover of a magazine. We were talking about the strength and weakness of having a cover design that is essentially a formula. It’s easy to recognize if it’s done well and if you are a subscriber or have positive feelings about the publication you can pick it out of a newsstand easily. But if it’s a boring cover design that has nothing going for it why would you pick up that rag if you didn’t know that the content was stellar?

 

As a photographer it is my job to make the images interesting and if I am to do a cover shot it needs to be interesting while being easy to read and leave space for type. Not an easy thing to do but it can be done well with some thought and work. Then you have situations where as the photographer your design criteria are so specific and limited that there isn’t much you can do with the shot other than shoot a vertical. I saw this a while ago and it so baffled me that I took a shot of it just so that I could complain:

  Mag stand

What gives here? I mean it almost looks like a rack of the same magazine but there are three different titles and they all have almost the same pose! These are major publications, (in a Rodney Dangerfield voice “Huh. No offence!”) that is incase they should decide to hire me sometime, but come on – that’s the best you can do? Wow.

 

Now I understand that there is a lot to be said for simple and clean design but there is no reason for anyone that I can think of to be compelled by these covers to walk over and pick them up. Since I’m on a roll I’ll ad in a hearty Mr. T “I pity the fool!” who had to shoot those cover shots except for the fat check that came with it. Those could have been shot by the new assistant while the “real” photographer was on the phone in the other room. So a boring shot was asked for, shot, received, edited, laid out and approved. And anyone wonders why magazines as a whole are treading water?

 

Being bold doesn’t mean being stupid but it does mean that you don’t passively repeat yourself. I’ve spoken about my unwillingness to repeat my own work even if it was with a different client. If you do what you have always done you usually get the same results. What the industry needs is to get creative and make content king again.

 

Ok, end of rant. Move along.

A toast to those looking after me

I have a confession to make: I wish that I had the benefit of having more strong editors influence and support me in my developing years. It’s not that I didn’t get to work with a few who took me under their wing. Jay Quadracci when he was at the Greeley Tribune gave me loads of support along with the excellent advice to “go have fun and the pictures will be there”. A big nod goes to Paul Aiken at The Boulder Daily Camera who always told me to “shoot the shit out of it”. Those guys were and are important to me and I can never thank them enough.

Because I didn’t go through the typical P-J school system, didn’t have internships and essentially have made, read as faked, my way from the “get go” some things took quite a while to filter their way to my head. One of which was the critical importance of a good editor. Now this is mostly because looking back at it I realize how many bad editors I had to deal with in the beginning. I think that they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do and acted as naively as I did in my own right.

I think that the issue was that I thought I was supposed to roam free, like the lone wolf, cowboy, rogue agent or something equally romantic, unencumbered by either convention or pesky people at the head office who coincidently are paying me for my photographic jaunt! On the other side of the assignment desk the editor most likely saw themselves as simply management: get things done, fill out the paperwork necessary – keep things clean and tidy.

We didn’t realize how much collaboration our work really is. Not in the sense that we are working together but that we are working for each other. The editor is not just the one who tells me to “go here and shoot this” but rather is my champion at the publication who is there to support me both in the field and in the office. To do my job well, not just properly, I need to have the time, access, information and supplies necessary. Much of that comes from the editor. Short notice, no real idea of what I’m supposed to see once I arrive at a vaguely described locale with a subject who may not be willing to cooperate and not having the critical something necessary to make the shot happen is a recipe for photographic disaster. Even if I apply the “go have fun” and then “shoot the hell out of it” principles the photos will likely be poor at best. Unfortunately I had way too many manager types and all too few who would make sure that I had what I needed to enable me to produce the coverage that the client honestly wanted. Too many times I had no more than an address and time with the instructions as fleshed out as “Need a shot of Dr. Pence. Vertical”.

As a news guy I learned to embrace being a tough intellectual loner to thus cope and figure things out as I went. Sometimes I had nothing more to go on than my instinct and work ethic. That’s when I started researching subjects in earnest so that I could have ideas to work with once I got there and found that I had little to work with. Unfortunately I had to do that so often that I tended to think of all editors as paper shufflers who were put in charge of professionals whose work they neither understood nor cared to have much interest in. I had the chance to shoot for very well known publications whose editor I was working for couldn’t fathom what it was like to have to make photographs in the real world.

Editor: We have a problem with some of the photos you took.

Me: Oh, what’s the issue?

Editor: Well the photos you took of her, (the subject of the story) when she was on stage are really red.

Me: Yeah. They had her in that deep red light pretty much the whole time. I couldn’t use flash while she was giving the presentation so that’s what we had to work with.

Editor: Ok, but they are really red.

Me: I used a tungsten white balance but that red has such a narrow spectrum that didn’t do much to clean it up.

Editor: I don’t like them – they are all red!

 

Then there is the:

Editor: How did it go? (after a three day travel story shoot)

Me: Great. I’m pretty stoked. I got excellent access, the weather was fine and there were lots of things happening.

Editor: Cool. I can’t wait to go through your shots.

Me: So that you know about 2/3 rds the way through there is a series with a couple on a bench with the big bridge in the background – the sun was going down behind them so I shot them as silhouettes. So you don’t think I botched my exposure! (laugh)

Editor: (confused) Silhouettes? Why in the world would you shoot something as a silhouette?

Me: Uh, well the colors in the sky behind them were lovely and the graphics of them on the bench with the tree on the other side of the frame with the arch of the bridge … Could make a good cover shot.

Editor: (shaking her head in wonder)

 

And the inexplicable:

Me: Wow. What a great time. I totally fell in love with that family – I hope they adopt me. Moments just happened in front of me effortlessly. We got horrible weather but it made for amazing light and their eyes and faces were just glowing from it.

Editor: Excellent. Did you get the cover shot we wanted?

Me: Not quite. As I said the weather was terrible so I had to find other options for that.  We did three different locations just for the cover and I’m pretty happy with them.

Editor: But we told you we wanted a vertical of the family in front of their house for the cover!

Me: I know but it rained both days I was there. There was no way to do the shot when it was pouring down. Take a look at my images. I have plenty of options for the cover.  Frankly their house is pretty boring looking so even if I did the outside shot with good weather it wouldn’t be that good as a cover.

Editor: No, no, no. You had specific instructions to shoot them outside their house …

(The editor was telling me this from 1500 miles away from the shoot location and had never even seen what their home or neighborhood looked like.)

Those kind ofexperiences gave me a very bad and totally unnecessary image of editors. As a result I think I became prejudiced against them fearing that the next one I dealt with would be clueless as to what I needed as a working professional. I did learn my lesson and as a result try to search out clients that understand and support their photographers. When you get a good editor you find that they are totally golden and you will bust your last nut for them as they will for you.

So here’s to the editors! You are not just looking through my images for “the good ones” you are doing all that you can for me/us so that I will in fact bring back “the good ones”.

Huzzah!

Pic of the day: A little interplay of light and shape that I grabbed on my way to a shoot in downtown Denver.

Denver light

I have a confession to make: I wish that I had the benefit of having more strong editors influence and support me in my developing years. It’s not that I didn’t get to work with a few who took me under their wing. Jay Quadracci when he was at the Greeley Tribune gave me loads of support along with the excellent advice to “go have fun and the pictures will be there”. A big nod goes to Paul Aiken at The Boulder Daily Camera who always told me to “shoot the shit out of it”. Those guys were and are important to me and I can never thank them enough.

 

Because I didn’t go through the typical P-J school system, didn’t have internships and essentially have made, read as faked, my way from the “get go” some things took quite a while to filter their way to my head. One of which was the critical importance of a good editor. Now this is mostly because looking back at it I realize how many bad editors I had to deal with in the beginning. I think that they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do and acted as naively as I did in my own right.

 

I think that the issue was that I thought I was supposed to roam free, like the lone wolf, cowboy, rogue agent or something equally romantic, unencumbered by either convention or pesky people at the head office who coincidently are paying me for my photographic jaunt! On the other side of the assignment desk the editor most likely saw themselves as simply management: get things done, fill out the paperwork necessary – keep things clean and tidy.

 

We didn’t realize how much collaboration our work really is. Not in the sense that we are working together but that we are working for each other. The editor is not just the one who tells me to “go here and shoot this” but rather is my champion at the publication who is there to support me both in the field and in the office. To do my job well, not just properly, I need to have the time, access, information and supplies necessary. Much of that comes from the editor. Short notice, no real idea of what I’m supposed to see once I arrive at a vaguely described locale with a subject who may not be willing to cooperate and not having the critical something necessary to make the shot happen is a recipe for photographic disaster. Even if I apply the “go have fun” and then “shoot the hell out of it” principles the photos will likely be poor at best. Unfortunately I had way too many manager types and all too few who would make sure that I had what I needed to enable me to produce the coverage that the client honestly wanted. Too many times I had no more than an address and time with the instructions as fleshed out as “Need a shot of Dr. Pence. Vertical”.

 

As a news guy I learned to embrace being a tough intellectual loner to thus cope and figure things out as I went. Sometimes I had nothing more to go on than my instinct and work ethic. That’s when I started researching subjects in earnest so that I could have ideas to work with once I got there and found that I had little to work with. Unfortunately I had to do that so often that I tended to think of all editors as paper shufflers who were put in charge of professionals whose work they neither understood nor cared to have much interest in. I had the chance to shoot for very well known publications whose editor I was working for couldn’t fathom what it was like to have to make photographs in the real world.

 

Editor: We have a problem with some of the photos you took.

Me: Oh, what’s the issue?

Editor: Well the photos you took of her, (the subject of the story) when she was on stage are really red.

Me: Yeah. They had her in that deep red light pretty much the whole time. I couldn’t use flash while she was giving the presentation so that’s what we had to work with.

Editor: Ok, but they are really red.

Me: I used a tungsten white balance but that red has such a narrow spectrum that didn’t do much to clean it up.

Editor: I don’t like them – they are all red!

 

Then there is the:

Editor: How did it go? (after a three day travel story shoot)

Me: Great. I’m pretty stoked. I got excellent access, the weather was fine and there were lots of things happening.

Editor: Cool. I can’t wait to go through your shots.

Me: So that you know about 2/3 rds the way through there is a series with a couple on a bench with the big bridge in the background – the sun was going down behind them so I shot them as silhouettes. So you don’t think I botched my exposure! (laugh)

Editor: (confused) Silhouettes? Why in the world would you shoot something as a silhouette?

Me: Uh, well the colors in the sky behind them were lovely and the graphics of them on the bench with the tree on the other side of the frame with the arch of the bridge … Could make a good cover shot.

Editor: (shaking her head in wonder)

 

And the inexplicable:

Me: Wow. What a great time. I totally fell in love with that family – I hope they adopt me. Moments just happened in front of me effortlessly. We got horrible weather but it made for amazing light and their eyes and faces were just glowing from it.

Editor: Excellent. Did you get the cover shot we wanted?

Me: Not quite. As I said the weather was terrible so I had to find other options for that.  We did three different locations just for the cover and I’m pretty happy with them.

Editor: But we told you we wanted a vertical of the family in front of their house for the cover!

Me: I know but it rained both days I was there. There was no way to do the shot when it was pouring down. Take a look at my images. I have plenty of options for the cover.  Frankly their house is pretty boring looking so even if I did the outside shot with good weather it wouldn’t be that good as a cover.

Editor: No, no, no. You had specific instructions to shoot them outside their house …

(The editor was telling me this from 1500 miles away from the shoot location and had never even seen what their home or neighborhood looked like.)

 

Those kind ofexperiences gave me a very bad and totally unnecessary image of editors. As a result I think I became prejudiced against them fearing that the next one I dealt with would be clueless as to what I needed as a working professional. I did learn my lesson and as a result try to search out clients that understand and support their photographers. When you get a good editor you find that they are totally golden and you will bust your last nut for them as they will for you.

 

So here’s to the editors! You are not just looking through my images for “the good ones” you are doing all that you can for me/us so that I will in fact bring back “the good ones”.

 

Huzzah!

With feet come eyes

I made an appointment to get some work done on my car and that got me thinking. Not about the car as I have an amazing mechanic in Boulder – Hoshi Motors (shameless plug). No I got thinking about what to do with the time that my car was in the shop. I didn’t schedule any assignments so I pretty much had the day to muh-self. I figured that I’d put some gear into my small backpack and take a walk about until the car was done. This came from a recollection of my week in NYC where I walked or took the bus everywhere that I went.

When I was in NYC I made plans to meet up with a buddy of mine who lives in the area. My phone rings and it’s a local number and thus I get hopeful that it was an editor who wanted to meet me. I answer and it’s my friend Doug and he asks me “What are you doing?” I tell him that I’m on a bus headed to an appointment with an editor. “Bus? What the heck are you doing on a bus? Take a cab man!” Well I had to explain that I had plenty of time and taking the bus was to me preferable to a cab because I get to be next to other people and I might learn something. That didn’t seem to make much sense but the fact that I actually wanted to walk everywhere really went past him. I did walk most of the time in NYC, at least six miles a day, as it enabled me to learn the city and be inspired by it rather than to sit in a padded seat in air conditioning and maybe watch things through the window. No, I want to stop and linger if the moment strikes me.

That’s when it dawned on me: you drive everywhere here in Denver. Partly because the mass transit is pretty much a joke compared to all the major cities in the US and partly because things are soooo far away. We spend a fair amount of time at highway speeds here so walking isn’t going to happen unless you are headed to the end of the block. Also when I am going to an assignment I often have way too much gear to just walk around with it. Yeah I’ve a small camera bag but also a case with lights and a case with stands and modifiers. Not the kind of load you want to walk around with for more than a few feet. Thus I rarely just walk around. A pity.

So with a few things in my little backpack incase I could use them for a project that I’m starting – that’s for a post to come – I dropped of my car an took it on the hoof. The idea was to just walk around a city that I’ve been connected to for over a dozen years. I know Boulder quite well but there is a difference between knowing a place by driving around it and by walking its’ streets.

 

When walking you know it intimately and you get the chance to stop and look. I recommend that everyone take a walk even around their home town and really get to see it. It changes your perspective; you see things either you didn’t notice before or new subtleties you overlooked or would never see from a vehicle. If it is a new place walking is the gateway to what is actually there.

Along the way which ended up being about a five mile hike I found:

3 restaurants that I intend to take the wife

A park that I never realized existed

4 locations that would work great for impromptu portraits

2 ideas for photo projects

Lots of pretty things

I didn’t ever take the “serious” gear out of my backpack but I did use the Cam-o-Phone to take little sketches as I like to do. The slow pace of walking even on routes that I often drive made those places seem very new and as a result I saw things differently. I would often stop and just look at the weathering on a wall, the pattern of leaves on the sidewalk or the light falling on the rocks of the creek. No real pictures but lovely little moments.

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